Fr. Burwell’s response to this question can be blamed partially on the question’s utter inanity. It is an example of how leadership in the American church has become confused with leadership in corporate settings, as if the qualities which would make one the darling of Wall Street would equate to being great in the Kingdom of God. Burwell says he is collaborative and “well-trained in Systems Theory and in all aspects of resolving conflict.”
He condemns a “culture permeated by divorce, by ego, by consumerism which believes that the customer is always right,” which, by the standards of Jesus Christ are justly condemned. Without mentioning the Biblical basis for it (strange for an evangelical), he outlines the Matthew 18 method of conflict resolution: going to the one who has offended you and trying to make amends. (Mt 18:15-17) He does not tolerate third party complaints or vows of confidentiality and says that people who gossip are “terrorists in the Church.” He urges all to take the initiative and try to resolve conflict “as Christ on the cross assumed the burden of bridging our separation from God.” He says he does his best to listen to the parties in conflict “from a non-judgmental perspective and I commit to make it as safe as possible to deal with the issues being raised.”
All of that is good. But does Fr. Burwell believe it, especially when it comes to conflict within the larger Church? He writes: “Within the Church we each need to be held accountable for our speech.” One assumes that “speech” includes written comments, so I would like to examine briefly how Fr. Burwell is dealing with the current conflicts in the Episcopal Church.
The answer: he’s certainly not non-judgmental. Fr. Burwell was the chair of the deputation from the Diocese of South Carolina, and as such, he made daily posts on the Holy Cross website. In one of those posts, from July 7, he writes of the Presiding Bishop’s opening address: “She said if you believe in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ you are a heretic.”
But Fr. Burwell’s observation is a bit off. I won’t go so far as to label it “terrorism,” however, it’s not exactly what the PB said. Here is the excerpt from her address which aroused Burwell so:
The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention: Ubuntu. That word doesn’t have any “I”s in it. The I only emerges as we connect – and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no “I” without “you,” and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the one who created us. Some of you will hear a resonance with Martin Buber’s I and Thou and recognize a harmony. You will not be wrong.
What the PB said is both clear and scriptural: Jesus died for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) The Western evangelical emphasis on personal salvation is a departure from the New Testament’s insistence that Jesus died to redeem the world. It’s a common theme in the Gospels and throughout the Epistles as well. When evangelicalism was infiltrated by Enlightenment rationalism with its emphasis on individualism, it jumped the track into heresy. Katherine Jefferts Schori was proclaiming orthodoxy, “what we have always believed, everywhere.” Where evangelicalism has its “Buddy Christ,” the scriptures (and the traditional teachings of the Church) proclaim the Savior of the World. While individuals are certainly saved, they are saved as part of God’s cosmic plan to liberate the entire creation from sin (Romans 8:19-21).
So, I have to say that Fr. Burwell’s management style is pure Wall Street, and his conflict resolution style, as far as the conflicts within the Episcopal Church go, is not one befitting a Bishop. Unless, of course, that Bishop intends to leave the Episcopal Church.